Stehekin residents dig out, wonder what caused mudslide
The remote village of Stehekin is cleaning up from a slide that swept away boulders, trees, propane tanks, wheelbarrows, trailers and fences, and eventually buried cars, damaged buildings and pushed much of the debris into Lake Chelan.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The first thing National Park Service Ranger Meghan Barrier heard was the sound of scraping metal. She leapt out of bed in her Stehekin cabin, put on her headlamp and went outside.
A massive wall of earth roared down the hill close to her cabin about 11:45 p.m. Thursday, sweeping up boulders, trees, propane tanks, wheelbarrows, trailers and fences and eventually burying cars, damaging buildings and pushing much of the debris into Lake Chelan.
Sunday, the isolated community of 152, accessible only by boat or floatplane, was digging out by shovel and backhoe. Now businesses are open, the road is cleared and residents and park rangers alike are wondering about the cause of such a massive slide.
Ask residents who have lived through the almost annual threat from wildfires that have destroyed acres of forests, and they will say the slide’s cause is linked to the fires that destroyed the natural barrier to slides — trees and other vegetation.
That’s Randall Dinwiddie’s theory. The owner of the Silver Bay Inn said the fires have stripped thousands of acres of trees from forest land.
The fire-landslide cause “is certainly possible,’’ said Barrier, “but we don’t know.”
The park service’s geologists are looking into the cause of the slide, which happened after heavy rain. They are also working to find ways to stabilize the slope.
For residents, the slide was like nothing they had experienced.
A friend stopped by Nick Davis’ home to tell him there had been a mudslide and his business — Stehekin Reservations, down by the landing to the lake — might be involved.
“We grabbed some towels,’’ Davis said with a laugh, expecting a little bit of water. “When we got down there, it was pretty impressive.”
His business was surrounded by mud and rock up to 4 feet deep, but there was very little water inside so he was able to stay open and keep booking hotel reservations to the area.
“God definitely spared us,’’ he said.
Nearly all the businesses are open except the one that was significantly damaged, Discovery Bikes, which was covered with mud, and bikes were swept away.
There were no injuries in the slide, and the damage estimates are still being calculated, said Ken Hirer, park-service interpreter.
Most of the work on Sunday involved removing debris from the Imus Creek delta so the water flow isn’t obstructed in case it rains again, Dinwiddie said.
While the Stehekin Valley Highway is now open and clean up well under way, the night of the slide is one Barrier won’t forget.
As she stood watching by her small cabin, the tumbling acres of earth stopped, but it was followed by a lot of water flowing on top of it and “that sent more mud oozing close to my cabin,’’ she said. But, ultimately, her cabin was undamaged.
Nancy Bartley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8522